Time Will Tell

Would you believe that some of the new luxury watches of today sell for as much as three-quarters of a million dollars? While that is beyond the budget of most of us, it illustrates a fascination many of us have with fine timepieces. You may not find many of these luxury watches at estate sales, but you might find some timepieces worth a good bit in the vintage watch market. It has been less than a century that the wristwatch has taken its place as an essential piece of most men’s wardrobes. While some cumbersome timepieces worn on the arm existed for the wealthy before the 1900s, it took WWI to make the wristwatch a commonplace item. Officers used the new timepieces to coordinate attacks and artillery barrages during trench warfare. By the ‘20s manufacturers were making affordable pieces for the masses and by the ‘40s these wristwatches virtually replaced the pocket watch as a way to keeping track of time.

Finding a Gem

This sudden popularity of the wristwatch has two consequences for the vintage timepiece market. First, many of the fine pocket watches of our grandparents and their parents have been stored away for decades. The pocket watch was an item of precision workmanship by the beginning of the twentieth century and many are highly valued by collectors today. A second market factor is the number of early model wristwatches that are sought by collectors today. In fact, some of the watches made as recently as the ‘80s and ‘90s are already considered desirable collectibles. These include such pieces as: • The Brietling Top-time • A Heur Carrera Caliber 11 of the ‘70s • Most gold dress watches, especially those from AP, Vacheron and IWC • Most Omega Chronostop Of course, early versions of the Timex and such watchmakers as TAG, Rolex and Longines are also popular items you might find in a large estate sale.

Tips for Collecting Vintage Watches

The guidelines for buying a vintage watch are similar to any collectible, including the importance of knowing who you’re buying from. If you like estate sales, patronize those with reputable agents and who avoid seeding such sales with questionable items. An additional consideration for vintage timepieces is whether you’ll plan on actually wearing them or not. If so, checking the band or bracelet for sizing is important.
Other factors include:
• Pricing: There are online guides for vintage watches. However, whether or not a particular watch is a value can be tricky to determine at an estate sale. Be careful in paying too much if you can determine the authenticity and condition of the movement.
• Wear: Especially on gold watches, check to ensure that the plating has not worn through at the lugs. A certain level of scratches is, of course, to be expected. Avoid those with heavily scratched or discolored crystals.
Vintage timepieces may present a chance for a bargain at your next estate sale. You’ll be especially fortunate if you find grandpa’s commemorative pocket watch stored away in an old sock.